The Miami Heat walk into the Garden and take care of business yet again.
Battling through more and more injuries, getting big time contributions down the roster, and a Kyle Lowry fourth quarter masterclass.
Some takeaways as the Heat go up 1-0 in the series.
#1: Taking a look at the Heat’s matchups, and defensive structure.
As I was hinting at before the series, Jalen Brunson is the head of the snake, so they need to try and cut him off early. That means Jimmy Butler should get the assignment, especially since Erik Spoelstra always dares RJ Barrett to beat them with Gabe Vincent defending. With all of that said, the Knicks were having their way on the interior pretty much the whole first half. How? Brunson was doing Brunson type things by getting to his spots in that mid-range and play-making from there. While I mentioned Butler defending him, it didn’t matter since the Heat were giving up switches all over the place. Attacking Max Strus or Duncan Robinson, sliding by Kyle Lowry to get inside. It may not be an individual assignment. It’s about loading up with extra help most likely. We will see the adjustments to come.
#2: So, the bench points?
If there was a positive for the Heat heading into halftime, it was that they only trailed by 5 in a game that felt like a grind on both ends. One of the main reasons for that aside from Gabe Vincent’s shot making? The Heat’s bench coming to play. When I asked Duncan Robinson about that total flip from regular season to playoffs, he told me it’s “rising to the occasion.” Kyle Lowry felt important in that first half to control things on-ball a good bit when Butler went to the bench or when he needed to get the insert pass in the low post. Caleb Martin was their source of instant energy and perimeter defense, but he also did a good job of trying to attack off the help that got sent away from him and onto Butler. Miami had 16 bench points to the Knicks’ 10, which felt like a battle that was going in the opposite direction.
#3: The Knicks eyeing down Jimmy Butler.
While both teams do play a similar base in drop coverage, the defensive structure of the Bucks and Knicks is completely different. The Knicks play higher up to the level, they load up on-ball, and well, they’ll adjust to send more help at the main threat, which in this case is Jimmy Butler. He opened the game 1 for 4, and credit to Josh Hart for digging into him down low in a way he honestly didn’t feel in the first round. But as I said, this was more team wide. Every drive to the basket was met by his defender, the roller’s defender, and the corner shooter’s defender. He was seeing three guys around him consistently, which forced him to play that play-making role with the reliance on shooting. Clearly, that’s what you want as a defense. He still found ways to work through that in his own ways, but this just sets the blueprint for the series. He’s going to be working through some shifting adjustments this time around.
#4: Kevin Love’s timely moments, making the outlet pass.
When it comes to third quarter takeaways as the Heat made a bit of a run, there wasn’t one bigger than the energy shift from Kevin Love. He got things started with a pick and pop with Butler as both defenders flew down, yet Love knocked down the open left wing three to make them pay. Timely. Shortly after, the Heat got in a defensive flow by getting some stops and securing the boards, and Love took things upon himself to make plays. Flings it down the floor to Strus for the layup. A few plays later, overhead pass down the floor to Butler over the top: layup. Then capitalizes on one final one to Butler in stride to force a Knicks timeout. The half-court offense was a grind with the Butler doubles, but Love getting the outlet passes going and playing into the open floor was a game changer. He’s been crucial in this post-season so far.
#5: Kyle Lowry’s fourth quarter masterclass.
As the Heat led by 6 walking into the fourth quarter with Jimmy Butler ready to stay on the floor the entire second half, they needed to find ways to close it out. Kyle Lowry did a good job of settling the offense with the necessary pull-ups that they’re missing without Tyler Herro. He found his shot multiple times at the head of the offense, keeping the Knicks on-ball defense honest to a degree, for somebody not named Jimmy Butler. With 6 and a half minutes left, the Knicks call timeout to settle their group as they trail 93-86. The Knicks made a run, but that’s not why things got dark. Butler drove to the basket, turned his ankle, and went down. He was in clear pain, but eventually got up to shoot his free throws. Better yet, he stayed in the game. Lowry decided to make a pair of game changing plays, making a swiping steal to force an extra possession then forcing a jump ball in the lane. Shortly after, he takes a baseline pull-up out of the timeout and knocks it down yet again. Full Kyle Lowry masterclass on both ends.
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